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Developed by JAXA (the Japanese space agency), MUSES-C was launched on 19 May 2004 from the Kagoshima space centre near the town of Uchinura in the south of Japan, by an M-V rocket.

Its name comes from the MU Space Engineering spacecraft C. It was subsequently renamed Hayabusa which means falcon in Japanese.

Its target was the asteroid Itokawa, which is part of the family of Earth-grazing asteroids that present the greatest risks because their trajectories intersect with the Earth's.

On 19 May 2004 the probe flew by the Earth, using its gravitational attraction to place itself in a new elliptical orbit taking it towards Itokawa. While passing close to the Earth Hayabusa tested its optical navigation system (ONC and LIDAR) which allow it to calculate its position relative to a celestial body.

On 12 September 2005 it stopped its propulsion (ion engines) to fly alongside the asteroid at zero relative speed. It made many scientific observations (including its gravitational field, topography etc.). This information, which is interesting in its own right, was used to locate suitable sites for taking samples.

Next, Hayabusa gently approached the asteroid and set down a collector to take samples. These were taken in three different locations, and weighed about 1 gram in all.

* First attempt on 19 November: the sample collection failed but the probe did safely land on Itokawa.
* Second attempt on 25 November: the collection apparently succeeded.

A robot, named Minerva and developed by JAXA, was released onto the asteroid to study the surface (failure: loss of contact with the robot).

Finally, after spending several extra months studying Itokawa, the probe re-started its engines, re-entering the Earth's atmosphere on 13 June 2010. The capsule containing the samples separated from the probe at a distance of 200,000 kilometres and re-entered the atmosphere. A parachute then broke its fall and it was recovered in the Australian desert.


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